LONDON-Pursuing a “global investment mandate” adopted 18 months ago, Toronto-based real estate giant Oxford Properties Group has committed to co-develop a $480-million office building along the River Thames. Under a schedule set by original investor UBS Global Asset Management, the 11-story, 530,000-sf Watermark Place expects to break ground in September and be completed by autumn 2009.

“We are delighted to have Oxford on board as developer and leaseholder,” says UBS Global executive director Alex O’Connell. UBS is pursuing the deal for its South East Recovery Fund, a $1.2-billion vehicle that began focusing on UK office buildings in 2004 during the depths of the London office market bust. OPG has now bought in by acquiring rights to a 250-year ground lease, although officials did not provide further details of the investment arrangement.

Mimicking the fast-track schedule of Watermark Place as the sponsors seek to capture a surge of fresh tenant demand, OPG is wasting little time crossing borders with its capital after spending the past decade amassing a diverse portfolio of nearly 40 million sf in Canada. Since the start of 2006, OPG has made direct investments of $2 billion of equity as far a field as Asia and Europe, as well as in the US and South America.

“The Watermark Place development is another important step in the expansion of Oxford’s global investment platform, demonstrating the skills, capabilities and reach of its investment professionals,” OPG EVP Christopher Voutsinas says in a release announcing the London venture. OPG will have full responsibility for delivery of the project and asset management upon completion, he explains. The firm has stepped up its participation in new construction of late in response to lower yields that have become common in buying existing assets.

Besides being a “unique investment opportunity” for his firm, OPG VP Andrew Trickett predicts Watermark Place will emerge as “an outstanding addition to London’s office market,” especially being sited on a scarce swath of waterfront property. Trickett also praises the design and development team, including architect Fletcher Priest, project manager City Offices LLP and the contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine. Reflecting the property’s position as one of the first of the new millennium, the developers have designed Watermark Place to meet so-called “green building” standards, adds Trickett, whose group also trumpeted the appointment of CB Richard Ellis and Knight Frank as exclusive leasing agents.

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